While arguing that the effects on the body are not in themselves evidence of true conversion, Edwards is careful not to dismiss such effects automatically as being wrong, in and of themselves.
Whether Edwards desired it or not, he found himself pastoring people who claimed to be having wonderful encounters with God. Sometimes they cried, sometimes they remained silent and sometimes they seemed to lose all physical strength.
This was inevitably a concern both to him and to those who heard what was happening. And so, in seeking to discern the way God was working, Edwards finds himself defending the work of the Spirit while urging restraint on those affected by their experience of God’s glory.
As this is a common feature of times of revival we would do well to allow Edwards’ insights and comments to help shape our own opinion.
And in so doing, perhaps our minds and hearts might be prepared for fresh encounters with the ‘the glorious splendour of His majesty’ (Psalm 145:5)!
God’s Glory can ‘overbear’ the body!
In his ‘Treatise Concerning Religious Affections’, Edwards is keen to discern authentic spiritual encounters, and the fruit that follows such encounters. But he very definitely defends the role of emotion, or ‘affections’ as a key element in Christian spirituality. Sometimes these religious affections can overpower us physically.
‘And who that considers what man’s nature is, and what the nature of the affections are, can reasonably doubt but that such unutterable and glorious joys, may be too great and mighty for weak dust and ashes, so as to be considerably overbearing to it?
It is evident by the Scripture, that true divine discoveries, or ideas of God’s glory, when given in a great degree, have a tendency, by affecting the mind, to overbear the body.’ (A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 1746, Section 2, Yale, http://edwards.yale.edu/)
Good Jonathan Edwards spends so much time considering these ‘power encounters’ that we will spend a few more posts listening both to his eye-witness accounts and to his judicious conclusions.
© 2009 Lex Loizides